Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Favorite Books

Taking a cue from my blog friends (Jennifer and LizAnne) and The Week magazine, I'm listing my 5 favorite books. All are non-fiction except White Oleander.

Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe- Bill Bryson. Bryson is a fantastic travel writer. He approaches every destination with wit, wonder, and the self-depreciation a chubby 50-something man with a sense of humor should have.

Sick Girl- Amy Silverstein. Silverstein underwent a heart transplant at the tender age of 25. Seventeen years later, she recounts every horrifying detail of why the transplant is just the beginning of the fight to live with another heart in your body. A great voice.

The Glass Castle- Jeannete Walls. You'll think you're childhood was closer to crystal goblets than welfare after reading this non-fiction tome about Walls difficult journey from a poverty-stricken childhood to a successful adult.

Do It! Let's Get Off Our But's (The Life 101 Series) - Peter McWilliams. I was 20 and looking for direction when I stumbled upon this book. It provided me with the courage to leave Arizona and study abroad. Every page has an inspiring quote - "If you want a place in the sun, you must leave the shade of the family tree". I cut out all the quotes and still refer to them now, 16 years later.

White Oleander - Janet Fitch. Beautifully written , but shoddily produced into a movie. The book follows a foster child as she moves in and out of different homes. Harrowing, scary and hopeful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our Camelot

For years, I have felt gypped. Missing out. Deprived of a government I could relate to, denied an approachable First Family. How could I even begin to understand the Bush family, so steeped in drunken entitlement and monetary riches? Bushes, who always put on the air as if they were to the manor born. It's hard to feel a president understands your unemployment pain when his former life included owning a baseball team. (Yoo hoo- you're from TEXAS!) Before the Bushes, we had Carter, who was a peanut nerd, and Reagan, old. Clinton brought spirit and charisma, but his family life seemed stilted and strange.

Camelot. Its legendary mystique and fascination enthralled my parents and their generation. President Kennedy offered our country a colorful, fresh approach to government. Jackie in her parfait suits, and John John scampering under the Oval Office desk allowed us to share in a perfect family portrait we all longed to be part of. While I think we can debate exactly how much Kennedy contributed to this countries infrastructure, I don't think it can be argued how much passion Kennedy infused in all Americans. His youthful vibrancy, pretty wife, and pixie children made us all want to believe he was doing something worthwhile while he was in office.

My mother was hanging new curtains when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Hanging curtains. Hanging curtains. She would say this whenever she was asked "where were you when?" Hanging curtains. It was forever etched in her memory. I'm wondering if she ever got around to finishing the task, as I don't remember those curtains. My mom said she bawled her eyes out for weeks, and it went down as one of the saddest events of her life.

I never understood this. How could she have been so despondent over a president? Someone she had never met. How could she have felt such a loss, such a fear of the future? Heck, I've always felt the mailman could step in for the prez and do some good deeds. I felt slighted. Disappointed. I wanted to feel this same passion about our country's leader.

Barack Obama had a pleasant closed-mouth smile on his face as he descended down the Capitol steps today. He joined his beautiful family next to the podium and was treated to a specially composed quartet piece headed by Yo- Yo Ma. Michelle Obama placed her hand on Mr. Obama's back during the interlude. It was a love pat. A genuine embrace of support, with a tad bit of "you're hot- I'm gonna shag you tonight" thrown in. At least that's how I saw it. It wasn't orchestrated as a display for the cameras on a beach after a very public Oval Office affair. Malia and Sasha were next to their father, and after he took the oath of office, he exchanged kisses and sweet smiles with them.

What we were all witnessing was a family's joy, a family's public love. This family has a wife who supports her husband while keeping him grounded. This family has two little girls whose father walks them to school. This family has a grand mom moving into the White House to be closer to her granddaughters. This was a family I understood. Whether of not it's accurate, they look like us, they hug like us, and they love like us. I'm buying the hope, the brighter future and the promises Obama is offering. I have to, as I've been captivated by my generations Camelot.
I grabbed onto Nora a little tighter as the swearing-in was complete, and a tear slid down my cheek.

2:00 38 seconds

PF Changs Rock-N-Roll 1/2 Marathon ( with neighbors and friends Amy and James Skaalen)

I reached my goal. Four years ago, I an the same run in 2:17. I knew I could do better. And I did. It kicked my thighs, and wrecked my feet. I've got blisters where I never had them before, and two days later it still hurts to sit on the can.

But I reached the goal surrounded by people who looked like runners. It felt so damn good to stand next to fit buff men and tall, leathered women clad in lycra. My short legs gave it my all. I couldn't have run any faster, any harder, any longer.

It was another douse of sweet vindication after so many years of standing on the sidelines, handing over an excuse note in gym, and not participating.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Running / St. John

I've been running. A lot. The half-marathon is Sunday so I've been trying to see how much I can hurt myself to break 2 hours. I'm like an old creaky ship. Brainiac I am, I decided to wear my new shoes for my nine mile run on Saturday. You think I would learn not to do crazy crap like that before a race. Three years ago, I tested out a new brand of shoes during the Scottsdale Night Run. I ended up with torn toe tissue. At the end of the run on Saturday, I had developed a blister on the inside of my foot. I'm not sure it was the loose socks I was wearing, the new shoes, or the fact that I ran nine miles looking like I was fleeing a fire. Retard.

I took a long bike ride on Sunday, and yesterday tested myself by doing a 3 mile fast run. Pushing one of my charges in the stroller. Forget it. I was sore, tired, and slow. The Gumpesqueness I felt on Saturday had evaporated and I stumbled through the streets like a sloth. There was my sign. Two days of rest or I'm gonna crash and burn on Sunday.

On Sunday night I drove my parents to the airport. They were departing for 10 nights in St. John, in the USVI. As a kid, my family spent several vacations in St. John, and it's where Scot and I honeymooned. The parental unit is renting a one-bedroom condo overlooking the water. The flights to get to St. John are long, and it took my parents 17 hours, door to door. But when they got there they had nothing to do but make a PB &J and gaze out at the sea (they brought sandwich makings) You think I'd be sick with envy, but I'm not. My parents slogged through two sets of children, grad school and 40 years of careers. It's their time. I just ask they drink a beer for me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On a More positive Note

My husband is working two jobs. He's in grad school. He's busy as the dickens. But he still comes home, happy. He loves me, and our children.

He is working. We are saving. The children are healthy.

I am so thankful.

Teacher, Teach Me

My mom picked up Maggie from school today. My mother saw Maggie for one minute and noticed her arm. It was bloody. "What happened to her her?" she asked me.

I looked at Maggie's elbow and was shocked to see a deep abrasion with a significant amount of dried, caked blood. When I asked Maggie what happened, she shrugged her shoulders. Classic Maggie. This is the child who only speaks when spoken to, and then only if she's comfortable. When she opens Christmas presents, she grins shyly and slides the gift to the side. At the heart of it, Maggie does not like to draw attention to herself.

At this age, Maggie has a responsibility to herself and her body. She should have told her teacher what happened to her arm. She should have asked to go to the nurse. But this is a child that suffers in silence. . For the cut to have dried over implies to me that Maggie ran around school for quite some time, long enough to have gotten blood on her pants. What really bothers me is how Maggie's teacher failed to notice the blood.

Maggie's kindergarten teacher was a wonderful woman. She read a book on "Selective Mutism," the type of shyness Maggie seems to exhibit. She challenged Maggie to read in front of the class, and gave her the lead in the school play. Complete with microphone. She was not content to let Maggie be a recluse. We had Maggie observed by the school psychologist. The therapist concluded that as parents and teachers, we were doing everything right to bring Maggie out of her shell. By the end of the year, Maggie was speaking aloud in class. I will forever be indebted to Ms. Kindergarten for her love, guidance, and determination to hear Maggie's voice.

This year, Maggie got the rodeo queen. Her 1st grade teacher is no-frills, and no-nonsense. Over Christmas break, the woman broke her arm tripping over the family pig in the kitchen. I embraced the change in teachers, knowing you can't pick favorites for everything in life. We won't always like our teachers, bosses, and colleagues, but we can learn something from time spent with them.

The first parent/teacher conference of the year didn't net much for Scot and I. Rodeo woman told us that Maggie "doesn't speak much " and that when she does, needs to speak louder. We were told she excels academically, but doesn't have excellent social skills. Duh... For every negative thing we heard about our daughter, we weren't given any options or ideas of how to deal with it. At the end of the meeting, I requested a visit from the school psychologist, and was promised by Maggie's teacher that she would contact him and arrange an in-classroom observation.

Today, Maggie came home with the bloody elbow. My child is not an idiot- she's 7, and scared shitless (and bloody) of the big, bad world out there. I needed the village to come to the aid of my daughter at school today. And they didn't. It was time to call the school principal. I wasn't ratting out Maggie's teacher, I was just being my child's advocate. Two months have passed and Maggie hasn't been checked out by the psychologist. For the Christmas play, she was given three words to say. Maggie is bored. She is silently crying out, "please, challenge me. Make me talk!" "See what I can do!"

This teacher is skating. There is no passion. She does not care. In an excelling school, she is doing the bare minimum.

I am pissed.

And don't worry, I'll keep you posted. :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Marley and Me

I took the kids to see "Marley and Me" yesterday. I couldn't stomach another cartoon movie, so I thought the dog flick with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston would satisfy us all . The film has gotten mixed reviews, most on the negative side. It was thrown out there that Jennifer Aniston is not a believable-looking mother of three in the film, and that the story is a bit of a snooze. I expected to see plenty of cute dog tricks and dumb jokes, accompanied by some obnoxious children. That's not what I got.

The movie follows the life of Aniston and Wilson's characters. Soon after the two are married, they adopt a dog. This dog then follows them on life's rocky path of jobs, children, job stress, child stress, and three different moves. The movie's main character, Marley the dog, is a major force of nature, destroying blankets, couches, and linoleum throughout the years. At one point Aniston's character wants to get rid of the dog. She is a sleep-deprived mother of two, and the dog's constant barking is pushing her to the edge of sanity. This scene resonated with me because recently I contemplated "re gifting" Patrick. When I had brought it up with Scot (not a fan of Patrick) he said "NO, you don't get rid of family." Aniston ultimately comes to the same conclusion.

Marley had been told his whole life that he has a "bad dog." Yet on his deathbed (which was an excruciating 30 minute ending) Owen Wilson tearfully tells the dog to ignore every bad thing he every said to him, and to know he was loved. Isn't that what we all wish we had the time to say when we lose a loved one? The movie is not about an overly cute lab, but about how we all show love through the patience, time, and energy we invest in those we call "family."

Nora, Maggie and I walked out of the theater, sobbing. I thought of all the dogs I had loved and lost during my life. Jeremy, Chester, Cheyenne, Lucy, Jack, Annie, Bernice, and Patrick. Some of them were pure goodness, and a couple of them had streaks of the devil. But they were all family members who taught me something about devotion and at the very least, made me laugh. Marley and Me didn't seem to be another Jennifer Aniston vehicle. Owen Wilson was restrained, and the dog didn't spend huge amounts of time hamming for the cameras. This was a movie that was about the unconditional love of dogs, and how they are always with us on the journey of life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy, Happy New Year

I've never really cared about New Years Day. In the past, it was just a sad reminder that the holidays were drawing to a close. But after a turbulent year, I spent today living the joy, beauty, and promise of a new year.

It was 70 degrees and sunny as we boarded our bikes. We rode to McDonalds, and then off to our local running store. After that, we went to the market for coffee, and headed home. I sat outside this afternoon, writing "thank you" notes from Christmas. The day was capped off by homemade sweet and sour chicken and Nobilo wine. A perfect, simple day spent with my perfect, sweet little family.

It was a year of tonsil removal, bad health diagnosis for my father, and a devastating job loss for Scot. But, alas, the year ended well. I'm eager to begin this year, and feeling confident in our future.

I am the luckiest son-of-a-gun in the world. I rang in another year, and am still surrounded by all my loved ones. Happy 2009!